May 25, 2010
That 20-20 record. That's what everyone remembers.
OK, that's what most people remember. That's what some people remember. That's what I remember, at least.
I remember that Dwane Casey is not just another retread. That he can actually coach. And that if the Atlanta Hawks make him their next sideline stalker, general manager Rick Sund may have found an answer for the blasé attitude that permeated the Hawk locker room more times than not during Mike Woodson's tenure.
That 20-20 is Casey's record over the first 40 games of the 2006-07 season, a 40-game stint that saw Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor overestimate the amount of talent GM Kevin McHale had put together before firing Casey and asking assistant Randy Wittman (now there's a retread) to take over for the final 41. Working with the same group of Timberwolves, Wittman went 12-30.
That 20-20 record stands out as one of the more telling marks in Timberwolves history — the team that refused to rebuild after the win-now boys of 2003-04 fell apart, the team that hung onto Kevin Garnett(notes) for too long, and the team that decided that a cadre of crappy hybrid guards (seriously, look at this roster) was the future. Somehow, a rotation featuring Mike James(notes), Randy Foye(notes), Rashad McCants(notes), Troy Hudson(notes) and Marko Jaric(notes) all battling for time to bring the ball up and launch an iffy jumper just didn't work for Wittman.
It worked for Casey, as he put the Wolves in the playoff hunt midway through the season with a lineup built around Kevin Garnett that should have been in the Greg Oden(notes) hunt. The Kentucky product and one-time-understudy-to-many had the Wolves overachieving, and working hard on both ends. And for Taylor, it wasn't enough. It should have been.
For Hawks fans, and especially Hawks players? This guy is enough.
This guy is more than enough. He's game matched with smarts and doubled up with focus. Plays, and the inspiration to want to run those plays. You will want to execute. And in a locker room that was poisoned by a coaching staff that gave up once spring hit (why wouldn't it? Woodson heard the rumors, and the Hawks lamed his duck months ago), Casey is exactly what the Hawks need.
If the Hawks will admit that they need someone.
Because Joe Johnson(notes) is working as a mini-LeBron James(notes) down there. Both in terms of game (mini-mini-mini; mind you), but capability and lack of culpability. The Hawks are set to extend him at all costs, without being wary of the fact that Johnson, I'm sorry, is just pretty good. Nothing that should tilt a franchise.
But even with this annoying status quo in place, and a too-rich payroll with little room for improvement beyond internal development, Casey can make this work. Not championship-work, the ceiling is too low for this roster, but he will have the Hawks working, should they pull the trigger.
And they need to pull the trigger. Because you have to take a chance with this roster, as solid as it is. Solid doesn't win championships, and as much as we respect Al Horford's(notes) play on both ends and Josh Smith(notes) starting to get it in 2009-10, the team's lack of depth, defensive issues, and late-game dependence on Johnson going one-on-one puts this group in a hole. Good enough to take a lot of teams down, and just good enough to get skunked by the great ones.
Especially on the road, which is usually the sign of a team that couldn't really give a rip about competing when competing gets hard. And although straight-up hoop orthodoxy got this team into the second round again, what does it matter? You have to try and create some sort of spark, even if it blows up in your face.
I can't see Casey as one to let things blow up. Atlanta has to make him a priority. Has to.
And its players? They have to treat this guy as the last chance. Because as young as Horford and Smith are, this is their last chance with this unit. Woodson may have thrown in the towel, but his players had a chance to reverse the course, to compete in spite of him. Instead, they moped, they shuffled up and down the court, and they lost.
Hawks fans? This isn't a retread. This is someone who never should have been let go in the first place. Embrace him, because he's not more of the same.